Rewarding Ingenuity Part 2

Back in March 2014, I wrote this post raising the question of whether we should reward ingenuity or punish bad behavior. We recently had another incident with the same daughter that had us thinking about this question again. This time, our daughter had her electronics taken away for bad behavior, specifically being rude and disrespectful. We had given her a specific timeframe for which she would have to suffer these indignities. After the first day or two, we found her watching Netflix on the family television in the basement. When we questioned her about it, she quickly pointed out that we had “taken her electronics”, but made no mention of her interaction with other electronics.

In a broader context, we often look at these types of situations and argue the gray line. We say that the offender “should have known better” or “should have known what I meant.” I think we walk a very difficult line with this argument, especially given the diversity of our workforces. Every day we interact with people who have had very different personal, work, education, etc. experiences from ourselves. There is a real possibility that they understand something differently (not necessarily better or worse).

Software projects are infamous for being over budget and delayed with the resulting solution not ever meeting the business objectives. In the traditional waterfall approach to software development, requirements are gathered upfront, and then interpreted by developers during implementation with a final delivery of a solution that hopefully meets the  customer goals. Agile methodologies address this by taking a very iterative approach to development, where constant feedback is given. This allows all stakeholders to see the execution (AKA interpretation) of the requirement and determine whether it meets the business objective.

As a project manager, I have to balance between breaking everything down to the simplest form as a means to eliminate misinterpretation and being vague enough to solicit questions, ideas and foster serendipitous moments. A team member that does only what is asked of them is good, but the team member that analyzes and challenges for the greater good of the project can be a rockstar.

In the end, is this really any different than my daughter interpreting her punishment differently?  On one hand, you want them to do their chores and listen to their parents, but on the other you want them to grow up to be critical thinkers and challenge the status quo to make the world better. This is a very hard lesson when you are 13. I’m not sure whether it gets easier to understand as we get older.

P.S. Just to close out the story, we allowed our daughter to use the family TV to watch Netflix because she very delivered her very logical explanation in a calm and peaceful manner.